Digital Law

  1. Digital law refers to legal requirements, legal decisions and ethics that relate to digital environments. Digital law can directly affect students in classrooms, employees and organizations as a whole. Some of the legal developments in Canadian law have proven evolutionary. As Horton and Thomson (2008) note in their description of Canadian law, Canada has chosen to emphasize and promote self-regulation over extensive legislation. Public awareness and education have been the tools chosen to promote child and family safety. The authors observe that the Canadian approach to legislative references may be summed up as, “If it is illegal offline, it is illegal online” (p. 63).

    Canadian digital law is largely reliant upon existing law, rather than specialized laws. However, given that many Internet services used by Canadians are based in the United States, U.S. law does have some relevance.

    While this section will not presume to provide an all-inclusive list of legal considerations and does not provide legal advice (please seek professional legal advice on all legal matters), it does provide a number of considerations for leaders in developing policy.

    Student and Educator Considerations

    Educators and students may inadvertently, or intentionally, break laws through digital means. As well, external persons or organizations, outside the school, the school authority and potentially in geographically distant locations, may break the law through digital means, affecting students, personnel or the school authority.

    Looking at legal concerns within the school authority, plagiarism is of particular interest to many educators. This is largely rooted in the ease with which information can be copied and pasted from other sources without recognizing the original source. While the base of the concern is frequently rooted in traditional text-based plagiarism, the possibilities include a variety of media (e.g. audio, video, photographs, graphics). As well, the nuances associated with authorship and ownership can prove less clearly defined in a digital context.

    The term mashups begins to demonstrate more complex requirements for defining the term ‘plagiarism’ and dividing lines between appropriate and inappropriate use. Ownership of material is much less clear when a breadth of media is aggregated into a mashup – sometimes to the point where any one of the originals is not readily identifiable.

  2. Canadian law clearly supports copyright ownership and respect of intellectual property. Recent amendments to the Copyright Act were passed in 2012 that address the nature of the Internet and how it enables copyright infringement. The amendments address activities such as the downloading of copyright protected material, such as music and videos. This presents considerations for education in instructing students about legal expectations and possibly limiting opportunity for such behaviour in school contexts.

  3. It is noteworthy that there appears to be a different sense of ownership rights between students and adults. Based on an Ipsos research poll (Ribble, 2011, p. 31), significantly more faculty and administrators (approximately 66%) than students (approximately 25%) indicated it was wrong to download or swap files. Clearly, the sense of copyright and ownership rights is not a strongly held value, particularly among students and particularly in an era when the boundaries are more highly nuanced. Digital citizenship policies should recognize the legal requirements associated with the Copyright Act and accommodate the more nuanced domain of Internet collaboration, sharing and mashups within this legal requirement.

  4. Legal considerations for students do not end at the potential for plagiarism. Other legal considerations policy developers should review include:

    • Identity theft
    • Computer hacking or harm (e.g. virus development);

    • Failure to protect confidential digital information (e.g. unencrypted data, data
  5. storage or movement, lack of protective networking structure, lack of appropriate

  6. server architecture); and

    • Failure to indicate ownership and rights to access data (e.g. rights to school authority-owned e-mails, rights to access Web 2.0 resources owned by staff and students as part of school authority work).
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